planting perennials

I should use every lick of space for edible options. Cause this is a homestead right?

But I am, undoubtedly, a closet botanist. And my closet is my greenhouse, and every available space I can turn into a garden bed. I like plants. Though I have yet to memorize their Latin names, I love watching them produce their first leaves, nurture them from tiny seeds to full grown plants, and decide plant combinations. I love love love being given free plants or the excess from other’s gardens, and I even attempt to collect seeds and start plants from cuttings. It might be a weird hobby, but it is a happy hobby.

In the middle of winter, when all I see is snow snow snow, an overcast sky with dabs of grey and a whole lot of coniferous forest, I am happy to hunker into my rocking chair and grab a cup of tea with my iPad and tap tap tap on my Pinterest page. Asking myself what plants I actually want to walk through in my gardens, I can begin to garden plan. Even January days are not lost garden days. They are planning days. And plans I have.  You can see some of my gardening ideas at

Perennials made their way into our home’s front gardens before artwork was placed on our walls. And I built every last garden bed from rocks that I carried up the hillside (oh, and my kids did too, if they found themselves with consequences or eager to earn a few dollars).

“Where did you get all that rock?” asked a non-mountain living friend. All I had to do was point “down there”. The bigger question is where do I get the topsoil? Topsoil is hard to come by here. Rock was found by blasting for our home’s foundation, blasting for the driveway, digging rock for trees, digging up garden beds. Lots of rock in these mountains made of rock.

The real question is how am I building garden beds? All soil does not make good growing soil. So I’m patient knowing that my present garden soil is not likely to grow gargantuan plants, yet, if I compost for a few years, collect excess from our local horse stables, shred a wee bit of newspaper, supplement with bark mulch and hugulkultur some of that brush we cut from our raw land eventually I’ll have some nice looking soil.

To make the garden look pretty, we had a guy shred piles of brush into chips. A useful way to use old trees, but for sure, the local greenhouse’s cedar mulch is the most decorative.

By far, my favourite perennial is lavender, of all varieties, but definitely the Proven├žal and grosso. So far, the deer won’t eat lavender. The deer will eat hydrangea, baptisia, and 36 tomato plants (by the end of last summer: I would only consume 8 cherry tomatoes). It’s tricky to plant perennials where we neighbor deer, lots and lots of deer, pretty deer, but far too intelligent deer, that always find a way to nibble down my…everything.

Today, I will spray a nontoxic anti-deer concoction on every perennial and tree. (And I may have commissioned my eight year old son to shoot a few bbs at the deer’s hindquarters, and I may also have paid him a quarter for each backside bull’s-eye he has achieved, and he may also have become very good at this).

Things to think about when choosing perennials:

Design style is everything. Look through dozens of magazines, collect ideas for the style of garden you prefer. Gotta know your likes if you want to build a garden that you want to live in. Are you into cottage gardens (informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants), modern gardens (that use hard landscaping materials like stone, hardwood, rendered walls to create clean design lines), zen Japanese gardens (carefully composed arrangements of rocks, water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes), suburbia originalis (postage stamp front lawn, hedge to backyard, fenced backyard and a tree or two). Have a pretty clear (but also flexible) vision before you start.

Are you planting sun or shade?

You might love hostas but if you don’t have shade, you’ll be burning those broad leafed beauties. I planted four boxwoods in south facing sun, hoping hoping hoping they would flourish. Indeed they did not. Boxwoods prefer part shade. I’ve since moved them, their leaves are coming back, and I expect they will be robust by next year. But I wanted boxwood by my verandah! Then I should have planted my verandah on the north garden.

I love a rustic swath of cornflower and rudbekia, but if they don’t have sun, they won’t be robust or floriferous (yes, it’s a real word). Luckily, most areas of my home, save for the forest undergrowth, finds much sun.

Find out how many hours the sun comes out to play in each of your garden beds, and you’ll know where your plant thrives.

Plant in good soil. All soil won’t grow everything…so determine what kind of soil your perennial wants. Does it like sandy soil or humus rich? Find the right amendment (soil additive) and you can make that soil.

If you’re a homeschooler, teach the kids to start the outdoor botany season (aka spring) with soil sample testing. Yes we really do this.

Is there enough potash in your soil? (Most people have it). Nitrogen? (Most people need more). What’s your soil’s pH? Acidic or alkaline? Most perennials like a pH of 6.5. But check your individual plant.

Know your hardiness zone. The sky is the limit as long as you’re not planting over your hardiness zone. Try to nurture a gardenia outdoors in the Canadian mountains and you will find yourself with an expensive twig (frankly, nurturing a gardenia indoors is also a challenge, but you know what I mean). Even if the greenhouse sells a plant, it does not necessarily mean your plant will thrive where you live. But you can always experiment if that’s your thing.

Your hardiness zone may not be the same as your neighbours or the local greenhouse. I live on a mountain, near the water, so I’m likely in zone 6B, whereas I have friends who live in a zone 4, just minutes away.

Everything living wants to eat and drink. Including your plants. How much they eat and what they want is very species dependent. Know their appetite.

Eggshells and coffee grounds for tomatoes. Decomposing straw, shredded bark, wood chips, fresh sawdust or green mulches like clover and comphrey; that stinky decomposed fish gunk that greenhouses sell to stink up your garden, but works amazingly! Compost and aged manure for everything.

At the end of the season, layer your garden beds with newspaper and mulch, or sprinkle with fall cover crops. Feed your soil and feed your plants.

“But here is all the sweet of dreams,
The grace of prayer, the boon of rest,
The spirit of old songs and loves
Dwells in this garden blossom-blest.

Here would I linger for a space,
And walk herein with memory;
The world will pass me as it may
And hope will minister to me.”

–Lucy Maud Montgomery